Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is likely to meet Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi this week to form an alliance before the February-March assembly elections, pushing through a political deal that has been stirring despite a Samajwadi Party family feud.
Poll managers view the pre-poll arrangement as a “win-win” situation for both parties in the new political narrative after the Akhilesh faction won the battle of perceptions in the power struggle within the family.
“A pre-poll alliance is all but certain to be announced this week,” a Congress source said.
The national party has been relegated to the state’s political margins after being voted out of power in 1989, while the SP has by and large split with Akhilesh on one side and his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the other. The Congress’s internal assessment is “not so encouraging” in case it runs alone.
Interlocutors of the two parties have started hectic parleys on sharing of seats for the state’s 404-member assembly, Congress sources said on Saturday. The Congress wants 100 seats to contest.
Specifics such as constituencies, candidates and joint campaign strategies will be thrashed out within the next 48 hour, sources in the Akhilesh camp said.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has apparently established contact with SP emissaries to work out the deal.
Speculation on a Samajwadi-Congress alliance swirled after political strategist Prashant Kishor met Akhilesh in November, after meeting SP patriarch Mulayam twice— apparently to discuss a potential partnership.
Mulayam had proposed a grand alliance for the UP polls, although he had walked out of a similar coalition between the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress in Bihar ahead of elections there in 2015. He was unhappy with the number of seats given to his party to contest in Bihar.
Kishor, who was poll strategist for Kumar and Prasad, is now helping the Congress in UP.
The buzz grew after Akhilesh surprised everyone in September, praising the 46-year-old Gandhi as a “good human being”.
For his part, Gandhi dropped broad hints of a tie-up when a party functionary asked him at Wednesday’s Congress convention about the UP polls. “UP mein majaa aayega (It will be fun in UP),” he said.
Regional party leaders were reluctant to rush into Mulayam’s unity proposal because of the infighting within his family.
But bow that the 43-year-old Akhilesh is calling the shots in the SP, it is hoped that smaller outfits and parties with little presence in UP will join the alliance.
“We understand ways are being found to accommodate the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Trinamool Congress, JD(U) and the Apna Dal’s Krishna Patel group by giving them seats in areas of their influence,” a Congress leader in the state said.
A 12-point agenda has been identified for inclusion in the common minimum programme that will govern the coalition.
“The Congress may get about 90 seats. The RLD 20 to 22 seats. The Trinamool had an MLA in the outgoing assembly. The party may be given a seat each in Mathura and Varanasi. The JD(U) and the Apna Dal may be accommodated in eastern UP,” the Congress leader said.
The Akhilesh faction views the “secular and socialist” alliance a way to beat anti-incumbency in India’s most populous and politically crucial state. The family battle has only strengthened the chief minister’s image, positioning him as a major challenger to the BJP and BSP’s quest for power, the group believes.
At the centre of the fight is the SP election symbol — a bicycle.
“We are waiting for the Election Commission’s order on the election symbol. The alliance may be formalised once the situation becomes clear,” a source said.
(With inputs from Umesh Raghuvanshi in Lucknow)